Apple Tech 2: It’s time to merge iOS with macOS

Smartphones will replace your PC! — Part 2

Avi Barel


macOS Touch (AppleOS) for Modular MacBooks & iPads

This article is Part 2 of an ongoing series, read Part 1, Part 3, and Part 4.

Apple has made it very clear that touch screen OS is not coming to the Mac. But from what we’ve seen in WWDC 2017, it makes a perfect sense that they will have to do that sooner or later and merge iOS with macOS. And if you think about it, iOS and macOS already share some similarities, not only when it comes to design, but also when it comes to functionality as well. Thanks to Apple’s continuity, we are able to keep working from all of our devices. And if that’s not enough, as I mentioned in my previous article, it looks like Apple is already working on a modular device. A device that probably will have to run (AppleOS?) a unique OS , a flexible (responsive) UI, and adapt itself to different screen-sizes, with or without Peripherals.

Steve Jobs and Craig Federighi, “there is not going to be a Touch-Screen Mac.”

My Inspiration

After two years as UX Lead at Microsoft Israel R&D Center, I had the pleasure to work on many Cross-Platform projects (iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, and Cloud apps). I came to the conclusion that it is indeed possible to deliver a great user-experience with an OS that runs on touch-screen devices, and also runs on desktop computers with peripherals. Microsoft’s Surface family is the proof that it’s possible. And as much as I love my MacBook Pro (I’ve been using Mac computers since I was 13 years old), but even I was amazed to get my hands-on the Microsoft Surface device family at work!

Inspired by Microsoft’s Fluent Design (UWP) guidelines, I did my research, and started this project because I wanted to apply some of its principles to the macOS, to see if it is not only possible to keep the macOS familiar, but also to make it touch friendly, and even merge it with iOS. After all, Microsoft made it clear that Windows 10 is a cross-platform OS, and soon it will even run both on X86 and ARM architectures. My guess is that Apple will do the same. According to rumors, even Google is working on a new OS called Fuchsia OS, and it looks more like Android and Chrome OS are both being merged into Fuchsia OS. And when it comes to Google, keep in your mind they have their amazing Material Design guidelines, so just like Microsoft, they are also prepared in terms of Cross-platform UX principles. Most of Google’s products are already using Material Design as their default UI, from Android to Google’s cloud and SaaS applications.

But what about Apple? Think about it, nowadays, it makes a perfect sense to run a single OS, with a single SDK on top of every device made by Apple. So even if Apple will announce their own AR/MR headset, like Microsoft’s HoloLens (powered by Windows10), Apple will have an advantage over the competitors, such as Google Glass, Meta Vision, and even Magic Leap. Because when you have different devices running the same OS, you’ll have one eco-system with one AppStore for all of your devices, and even the users will be able to enjoy this eco-system, and it doesn’t matter if they are on their Macs, iPhones or even AR headsets. Developers will have to develop once, and their apps will be available for all of Apple’s devices.

Merge iOS with macOS

We’ve heard so many rumors about the idea that Apple might one-day merge iOS with macOS, much as Microsoft has done with Windows 10 for its Surface tablets and PCs. But Apple’s CEO Tim Cook have denied this few years ago (just like Steve Jobs denied Apple was working on a phone, too), so I don’t know if Apple will ever create a modular Mac with detachable screen that turns into an iPad, but I think they’ll have to merge iOS with macOS in some way, because even today, iOS 11 for the iPad Pro takes so many features from the macOS, it improves multitasking and lets users pull up an app from the dock, to drag it onto the screen and split the screen. You can even long tap to drag folders, files, or pictures and drop them on different apps to share, such as the Mail app or Instant messaging app. And Apple has finally introduced a proper Files app, so yes — it’s not the “Finder” file browser we have on our Macs, but it’s pretty good (Even better than Android’s built-in file manager IMO), and there are also iOS features that are available on the macOS, SIRI, Touch ID, and even the UI design language is inspired by the iOS. So, I’m not saying that Apple will merge iOS with macOS into one OS overnight, but from what I see, they are already doing so…

Just Imagine…

When it comes to productivity, you want to be able to quickly shift from a media-consumption device to a work-machine, let’s say that in case of emergency, if your client / or your manager calls in the evening and you have to open some project files (in 3D Studio, Sketch, or Adobe premiere). You want to do it without getting up of the couch, to go back to your home office in order to use your Mac just for this particular task, because that’s what happens today to most of the professionals when they have to switch from the iPad to the Mac, simply because the iPad is not a desktop computer. It’s powerful enough, but not as powerful as a Mac (or any other PC with x86 CPU).

Just imagine, a modular MacBook that turns into an iPad, like magic! This can solve the problem I just described for so many professionals out there. Because a modular device (with x86 CPU) that easily turns into a consumption-device (when you detach the screen from the base), and enables you to easily get back to work-device (by attaching the screen back to base), and the best part — the device still lets you to use real desktop apps (like Photoshop, Sketch, etc.) when needed, even if you have forgotten the Base at home!

  • At work — I’d like to use my MacBook as I always did to get the job done, so I need it to be a powerful laptop. And in my case - I always had a docking station at my office with Apple’s keyboard and a Magic mouse connected to two-large displays, so I can get my work done.
  • At home — I’d like to detach the screen from the base, and as a result to get an iPad like UI and experience. I want the UI to shift itself from “Desktop-Mode” to “Tablet-Mode” immediately, and I want it to transform itself from work-machine to a media-consumption device!

In Summary

The secret in the UI, is that it can automatically switch to Tablet UI when the user detaches the screen, but in case you’ll need to switch back to Desktop-Mode manually or even use desktop apps to accomplish tasks, you are free to do so.

And yes, I don’t think this would be an easy move for Apple, but I believe they’ll do just fine, because if Microsoft proved it’s possible, Apple should learn from it and provide us (the users) a good alternative to the Surface device family.

But if anyone can do that well, it’s Apple (well, until Google will introduce what’s Fuchsia OS is all about).

My Concept

The goal: Keep it simple and familiar, but make it Touch friendly! The UI automatically changes from Desktop-Mode to Tablet-Mode, when you detach the screen from the base, but once you put it back, the UI goes from Tablet-Mode to Desktop-Mode automatically.

iOS inspired System Preferences, with touch-friendly UI elements.
Finder’s UI is re-designed and every menu item is touch-friendly, but also works well with a mouse.
Safari feels and works great!
Use your physical keyboard when you are on Desktop-Mode.
Use your touch keyboard when you are on Tablet-Mode.
You can even get some work done, using your touch keyboard, just like in your iPad.
Touch, edit, and manipulate your document, or simply use your mouse when needed.
Modern and refreshed menu bar, you can always go back to traditional menu bar in settings.
Traditional menu bar for long-time Mac users (Uncheck “Merge menu bar items” in settings).
Multi-tasking is better than ever, doesn’t matter if you are on Tablet-Mode or Desktop-Mode.
Notifications and Control-Center pane is better than ever, control everything with simple swipe!
Touch-friendly Dock Performances, customize everything, as you wish.
Touch-friendly System Performances, customize everything, as you wish.
Redesigned Apple menu — Access Applications, Updates, System Preferences, Sleep, Shut Down, and more.
Refreshed Mail App, be productive even without Peripherals, just like on your iPad.

In Practice

Works the best on Modular MacBooks (with detachable screen), but you can toggle “Touch-Mode” even without detaching the screen from the body.
Watch this short Video, or keep scrolling to see Pictures with description.

TL;DR video: AppleOS / macOS Touch
Works the best on Modular MacBooks (with detachable screen), but you can toggle “Tablet-Mode” even without detaching the screen from the body.
Even the menu bar is touch friendly and you can interact with it without a mouse.
Contextual menu items are accessible via the menu bar, but also accessible via 3D Touch / long tap on the folder / file item, so you can fire up context menu just like in iOS.
Improved Notification bar & Control center pane, control everything from here, easy to access and touch friendly.
Play music, adjust volume, and even stream via AirPlay to other devices / speakers.
Toggle Touch-Mode even on older Macs without detachable screens, so if your Mac is connected to the TV, you get Lean-back experience, and see the UI from the couch.
The new Mail App is touch-friendly and you can easily use it without any peripherals.
Surf the web on Tablet-Mode, if your Mac has detachable screen, Touch-Keyboard is automatically shows up when needed.
To get some work done, you can split your touch-keyboard and easily do your work ergonomically (on 15' MacBooks with detachable screens).
Multi-Tasking is better than ever, you can work on window mode, or simply use split-screen mode (without full-screen mode).
Contextual menu items are touch-friendly, and you can use it when needed in order to do the things you like to do on your Mac.
Tactile feedback and Visual feedback is important, so even Flat-Design (and all UI elements) feels like a real material.
Everything is responsive and touch friendly, even the sliders, check-boxes and radio-buttons.
But when Tablet-Mode is toggled, everything is more intuitive and easier to use.
New and re-designed Apple-menu — It’s touch-friendly and re-organized!
Easy access to System Preferences, updates, and even Applications.

Update — Just to clarify, a “Cross-Platform OS” can work both ways:
Once the UI is Adaptive and the OS supports both x86 and ARM (with x86 emulation for desktop apps, even on iPads!) Then you‘ll be able to:

1. Buy a Modular MacBook and turn it into an iPad. The UI automatically adapts itself and changes to iPad mode (as described in this article).

2. Buy an iPad and use it as a Mac (just connect your Mouse and Keyboard). The UI automatically changes to Desktop mode. And with x86 emulation, you’ll be able to run any desktop App (Photoshop, 3D Studio, Sketch, etc).

Originally published at StartUX by Avi Barel, on August 1, 2017
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Avi Barel
Editor for

Ex-Microsoft & Cisco UX Lead | Mentor & Advisory Board for XR Startups | VR/AR/XR Creator | Freelance UI/UX Product Designer at | CEO at HoverSense